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Zucchini: Its Versatility Is Legend

August 13, 2009 By:
Linda Morel, Jewish Exponent Feature
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WHAT'S COOKING?

As the last weeks of August rolled around, my sister-in-law's vegetable garden used to be overrun with zucchinis (that was before she gave up growing vegetables). For mysterious reasons, Wendy's garden sprouted more zucchinis than a family of four could possibly consume, particularly since one of her sons didn't eat anything green. It didn't help that some of these specimens were the size of my forearm.

In my grandmother's day, bumper crops like these would be blanched and stored in Mason jars for the winter. But by the dawn of this century, home preserving was history.

This left Wendy wondering, "How many nights a week can I sauté, steam or grill zucchini?"

To help her out, I volunteered to bake tea breads from several of her monster squash. I gave her half of the loaves and kept the rest for myself.

"At least these breads can be frozen until I feel like eating zucchini again," she said one August afternoon when I dropped off her share.

Right now, many people are in her predicament. Backyard gardens, farmer's markets and supermarkets are flooded with zucchinis. For that reason, their price has dropped, creating an opportunity for budget minded cooks. But how many zucchinis should you buy, and can they be easily preserved for future use?

I am a great proponent of both eating produce in season and incorporating unexpected extras in recipes that lend themselves to freezing, such as pastries and soups.

Think in terms of expanding zucchini possibilities beyond the obvious. Give loaves of zucchini bread as gifts when you're invited for dinner, instead of flowers or wine. Sauté this versatile vegetable in olive oil and serve it as a side dish or on top of pasta.

Besides grilling zucchini for dinner, layer slices into sandwiches. Sautéed in butter, zucchini is tasty inside of omelets. Sliced zucchini compliments most salads. Zucchini perks up any chicken or vegetable soup, which, like the one below, can be made now, frozen, and served at Rosh Hashanah. The possibilities are endless.

However, if you can't face another long green squash, don't despair. September is coming. Soon you'll be debating what to do with the annual deluge of apples.

Puree of Zucchini Soup
(Pareve or Dairy)

A versatile soup that can be served hot or cold, and freezes well.

1 onion
2 medium-sized zucchinis, cleaned
2 carrots, peeled and cleaned
1 potato, peeled
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 vegetable bouillon cubes
1/2 tsp. curry powder
kosher salt, if needed
1 cup low-fat sour cream (optional)
Garnish: 2 Tbsps. chopped parsley and sour cream

Dice onion, zucchini, carrots and potato. Place these vegetables in a 41/2-quart pot, along with garlic, bouillon and curry powder. Pour in a quart of water, or enough to slightly submerge vegetables. Cover pot and simmer on a medium flame until potatoes and carrots are soft, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Taste broth to check if salt is needed.

Bring vegetable mixture to room temperature. Move mixture and broth in batches to a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until mixture is pureed. Add 2/3 cup sour cream and process again until completely incorporated. (Omit sour cream for a pareve soup, which will be a bit spicy.)

Serve soup cold, or heat it on a low flame until hot. Garnish soup bowls with parsley and dollops of the remaining 1/3 cup of sour cream.

Serves 4.

Stir-Fried Zucchini
(Pareve)

A zesty side dish that adds Asian flair to everyday foods.

1 bunch scallions
4 medium-sized zucchinis, cleaned
3 Tbsps. sesame oil (preferably from toasted sesame seeds), or more, if needed
2 tsps. peeled and minced ginger (from about 2-inches of ginger root)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsps. low-sodium soy sauce, or more, if needed

Remove outer leaves from scallions. Finely dice white ends, discarding the coarse green parts and outer leaves. Reserve.

Cut zucchini horizontally into half or thirds, depending on length. (If serving with rice, prepare the rice while making the zucchini.) Pieces should be about 31/2 inches long. Cut zucchini pieces lengthwise into 2 or 3 long wedges.

Heat oil in a wok or a large pot. Add zucchini and stir frequently. When zucchini starts to brown, add ginger and more oil, if needed. Keep stirring.

When zucchini is browned, add scallions, garlic and soy sauce all at once. Stir constantly for about 1 minute.

Optional: Serve with white or brown rice, prepared according to package directions

Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Chunky Zucchini And Tomato
(Pareve or Dairy)

A snappy side dish with Italian soul.

1 medium-sized onion
3 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed
4 medium-sized zucchini, cut into thin, round slices
kosher salt to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsps. fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp. oregano
4 Italian plum tomatoes, diced
Optional garnish: 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, preferably high quality

Cut the onion into thin slices. Separate the slices into rings.

In a large pot, heat olive oil on a medium flame. Sauté onions until they start to brown, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and sprinkle in salt. Stir occasionally until zucchini starts to brown. This takes 20 minutes, or more. Drizzle in more olive oil, if needed. Stir in garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add parsley, oregano, tomatoes and more salt, if needed. Sauté until tomatoes are wilted but still chunky.

Serve immediately or cooled to room temperature. Place zucchini in a bowl. For a dairy accent, dot with dollops of ricotta cheese.

Serves 4.

Three Petite Zucchini Breads
(Pareve)

These tea breads are delightful for breakfast, dessert, and afternoon coffee or tea.

3/4 cup golden raisins
nonstick vegetable spray
3 medium-sized zucchinis, cleaned
3 eggs
11/4 cups vegetable oil
11/2 cups sugar
3/4 tsp. almond extract
2 cups flour
2 tsps. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cardamom

Boil 2 cups water. Remove from flame and add raisins. Soak raisins in water while assembling ingredients.

Spray three aluminum bread pans (8x33/4x21/2) generously with nonstick spray. Preheat oven to 350°.

With the grating blade of a food processor, grate zucchini. Place grated zucchini in a colander. Press down with your palm and squeeze out as much excess water from the zucchini as possible. Continue draining over a colander.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, oil, sugar and almond extract, until well incorporated.

Squeeze zucchini again with your palm, draining out more water. Measure zucchini to 2 cups. (If there's excess zucchini, use it for another purpose.*) Add zucchini to mixing bowl and gently blend on low speed. Sift in the remaining ingredients and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.

Drain raisins in the colander. Place on a paper towel and pat dry. Add raisins to zucchini mixture and combine.

Pour 1/3 of batter into each prepared loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until tester inserted into center of pans comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

Breads taste even better the next day. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in plastic bags. Recipe freezes well.

Serves 10 to 12 slices per bread or 30 to 36 slices in all.

(*Excess grated zucchini can be sautéed in olive oil until crisp and served as a nibble.)

Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. E-mail her at: [email protected].

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